HARLINGEN, RGV – Relevant Radio has not made a decision on whether to keep National Public Radio on the air in the Rio Grande Valley if, as expected, it acquires RGV Public Radio 88 FM from the Diocese of Brownsville.

On its website, Relevant Radio says it “assists the Church in the New Evangelization by providing relevant programming through media platforms to help people bridge the gap between faith and everyday life.” Its guiding principles are: Faithful to the Magisterium and Catechism of the Catholic Church; United to the Bishops; and Under the protective intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores is hoping to sell KHID 88.1 FM and KJJF 88.9 FM, otherwise known as Harlingen-based RGV Public Radio 88FM, to Immaculate Heart Media/Relevant Radio for over one million dollars. The Diocese of Brownsville has the license for National Public Radio in the Rio Grande Valley. Some NPR programs air on RGV Public Radio. Bishop Flores is waiting for approval for the sale rom the Federal Communications Commission. If the sale goes through, National Public Radio (NPR) could be lost to the Valley.

Asked by the Rio Grande Guardian if Relevant Radio would keep NPR if it acquired RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Nancy Jensen said: “No decision has been made.” Jensen is chief marketing officer for Relevant Radio. Jensen issued this statement:

“Relevant Radio® has agreed to acquire two non-commercial, educational FM radio stations in the Brownsville/McAllen market, and an application for consent to that acquisition is pending at the FCC, under the Relevant Radio official corporate name, Immaculate Heart Media, Inc.  

“It is our hope to serve the predominantly Spanish speaking population in this market with Relevant Radio En Espanol, a format which is currently under development. We place the utmost importance on serving our local communities with local content. All of our existing owned and operated Relevant Radio stations offer unique local content, and we expect that to continue in Brownsville/McAllen.   

“We are not able to offer you any specific examples at this time of how this might work in Brownsville, but we expect to announce our plans soon. Because these stations are non-commercial, we are prohibited from offering paid advertising, but we can accept underwriting announcements from local organizations.

“We appreciate your interest and would be happy to answer additional questions once the application has been granted and our programming plans are further developed.”

Ken Mills, a veteran public radio broadcaster, who is advising Rio Grande Valley residents how to save NPR in their region, dismissed talk of Relevant Radio keeping National Public Radio on the air in the Valley.

“Relevant Radio’s comments are total BS. They are playing for time until the FCC approves the sale, which will happen, likely in May. I doubt NPR would let them join or air their programming,” Mills said.

“Relevant Radio says they haven’t decided on ‘airing NPR programming’ but it is important to point out that they aren’t talking about establishing an ‘NPR station.’ We are talking about establishing a 24/7 NPR station, not just someone to carry ATC — that is what you have now with the Diocese.”

Mills said there are a few Catholic institutions the operate NPR stations. “WFUV at Fordham in New York City and WHSU at a Catholic college in New Haven. These stations have 100 percent editorial control over their their programming.”

Save NPR in the RGV

The former members of KMBH’s Upper Valley Community Advisory Board are working on the assumption that the FCC will sanction the sale of RGV Public Radio 88 FM and that Relevant Radio will NOT keep NPR programming.

“We are working on the assumption we need a new NPR station in the Valley and the only way to achieve that is to mobilize support in the community,” said Shawn Seale, a former member of the Upper Valley Community Advisory Board.

“To this end we have set up a new Facebook page, Save NPR in the Rio Grande Valley. Please like it and share it. We need to show NPR has the support of the people of the Valley.”

(Editor’s Note: Click here to visit the Save NPR in the Rio Grande Valley Facebook page.)

Shawn Seale

Seale said she and former Community Advisory Board colleagues will now call themselves Save NPR in the Rio Grande Valley. She said they are currently applying for non-profit status. “We want to raise sufficient funds to start a new NPR station. We love NPR.”

Two NPR supporters in the Valley have pledged their support. 

“I’m a 71-year-old native of the Rio Grande Valley. I’ve lived in other parts of the U.S., out west but returned to the RGV in 1994. I cannot stand the thought of not having NPR here and I’m not alone,” said Kathleen Sheldon.

“And, I’m not talking about some watered down Catholic version, if that would even happen. I’m Catholic by the way. I hope enough people down here care enough to make an independent NPR station happen. Just so you know, some of us care.”

Paul Abramson is a retired broadcaster and business advisor living in Madison, Wisconsin. A Winter Texan, he resides in Pharr, Texas during the winter months. 

From the late 1970s to early 1990s he was a manager for then 11-station (now 42 including translators) statewide NPR affiliate Wisconsin Public Radio network. In the early 1970s he worked his way through college as a rock radio announcer in Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley and Green Bay regions. As a volunteer he is presently Outreach Coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County in San Juan.”

Abramson said:

“W.F. Strong’s “Stories from Texas” public radio show says ‘Europeans think of three things when they think of Texas: Cowboys, oil, and rattlesnakes.’ This is the kind of though provoking storytelling I value in local and National Public Radio. Tuning NPR here should not rival catching rattlesnakes! 

“As many have mentioned, ‘corporations will do what they will do’ and that goes for churches too. It’s been a sort of miracle in my view Catholic Diocese of Brownsville programs National Public Radio on their station anyway. GV Educational Broadcasting, Inc. deserves thanks for introducing educational radio here in 1982. Their role is done. Now RGV can move to a new NPR station licensed frequency, which when found, will do as well or better.  

“NPR stations encourage critical thinking. I find places with NPR stations are more attractive to thinking people; people who want to be thought-leaders in places they live, gather, work and worship. With UTRGV and other colleges this region is committed to educate people. Those people are passionate about public radio.  

“I call on all who support balance in radio listening options to keep NPR in the sound mix for people who love our Rio Grande Valley home.”

Brownsville-based author and broadcaster W.F. Strong’s ‘Stories From Texas’ air on RGV Public Radio 88 FM. Strong praised Save NPR in the RGV for its grassroots efforts to keep public radio going in the Valley.

”I’m glad you guys are taking the lead on this. The good news on my end is that the university (UT-Rio Grande Valley) is very interested in saving NPR and perhaps establishing the new station on campus. Certainly the aim is to make it Valley-wide and while we’re at it create a stronger signal.”

Virginia Haynie Gause, a former librarian at UT-Pan American, also praised Save NPR in the RGV.

”We can’t have the quality of life that we are used to if we don’t have NPR! Try to imagine being isolated and not knowing what is going on around the U.S. and the world. No, we can’t let darkness surround us. NPR will be the shining light for us!”